As a citizens’ movement and platform for dialogue on election-related issues, Kura Yangu Sauti Yangu (KYSY) is pleased that its desire from the outset when it was formed by a group of NGOs and civil society organizations to initiate public dialogue on the electoral process and the state of preparedness as the country moves towards the 2017 elections has finally been appreciated and taken place. This is the way to go.
Indeed, if this national dialogue that we are concluding today were to happen in accordance with the wishes of KYSY, it would have been held last year. But as we all know, the IEBC commissioners that held office before the current team came into office was so maligned that at some point, appearance of any member of the team, particularly its chairperson was an exception rather than the norm. I remember how appearance of Isaac Hassan at a function at a Nairobi hotel late last year was treated with some degree of pleasant surprise and excitement because of his predictable absence in many a public function to which he had been invited earlier.
In championing for a national dialogue on elections, our goal has always been to realise free, fair, credible and peaceful elections.
The agenda for the National Election Conference as KYSY had envisaged it included frank discussions on the credibility and legitimacy of the IEBC as then constituted. Had the IEBC taken up the initiative, the street demonstrations that characterised the period preceding the exit of the Isaac Hassan-led team would, perhaps, have been avoided. Lack of leadership, particularly at the national political level put paid to the painstaking efforts that KYSY made to reach out to the various stakeholders, including the government of the day on this particular issue..
By the time some level of consensus was reached on how to exit the former IEBC team, time to discuss with their involvement the issue of its loss of credibility and legitimacy had been lost, leading to their disgraceful exit. But most of the issues have remained relevant and have been exhaustively discussed and workable proposals made at this historic conference.
We in KYSY are glad that issues relating to discrimination in electoral governance – the 2/3 gender principle, participation of ethnic minorities and persons with disabilities have been discussed and found redress in this conference.
Equally gratifying was that the vexed issue of dispute resolution in electoral governance and coordination among public agencies working on elections found its way into the agenda and animated discussions that have characterised this conference. That issues relating to credibility of the electoral governance process, with respect to the voters register and the use of technologies were subjects of passionate and informed discussion during the conference.
As a co-convener of KYSY, I enjoyed the spectacle of seeing the Inspector General of Police dripped in sweat as he struggled and fumbled to find answers to extremely challenging and difficult questions. This was in keeping with the desire of KYSY that issues relating to security in electoral governance be discussed publicly and candidly. It is the only way that as a country, we can collectively ensure that there are adequate accountability mechanisms in place for broadly acceptable public order policies around the elections.
We had the opportunity to discuss the recurrent issue of election violence, its manifestations and how collectively we can stem the vice. Of regrettable note is that most perpetrators of electoral violence and the brains behind them are more often than not never brought to book, as no one has been comprehensively prosecuted for election violence in the country. This trend has the effect of emboldening the perpetrators to become entrenched in the act.
It was obvious during the discussions that architects, sponsors, and perpetrators of violence before, during and after the elections seem to enjoy complete impunity because of both the powers of intimidation they wield and the tacit acceptance of their conduct by police and government officials at all levels. The levels of violence and electoral fraud witnessed recently in the party primaries not only added to the litany of electoral malpractices experienced in the past but may also have set the tone for another wave post-election violence as witnessed in 2007.
We all witnessed despicable incidents of violence in all parts of the country. Political actors across the board whether in government or in opposition were guilty as charged in the court of public opinion yet none of those involved have been charged in the courts of law. This is an indictment on the National Intelligence Services, the Criminal Investigations Department, the Regular and Administration Police and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. Kenya’s democratic history has shown an electoral and political violence that often times threatens the country to its very foundation, making it nearly impossible to consolidate democratic gains that we have made as a country.
Under these circumstances, one feels a sense of compunction referring to the country as a democratic state even though some operators vehemently lay claim to it.
Article 38 of the Constitution of Kenya guarantees every citizen the right to free political choices, including the right to form or participate in forming a political party; to recruit members for a political party and to campaign for a political party or cause. More profoundly, it guarantees every citizen the right to free, fair and regular elections based on universal suffrage and the free expression of the will of the electors.
It is President Johnson of the United States of America who said as he signed the Voting Rights Act more than 50 years ago that “the right to vote is the basic right, without which all rights are meaningless”. While some of you here may say that the assertion is debatable, there is no denying the fact that it is on the basis of the mandate that we delegate to our elected leaders and those they appoint thereafter that we demand that they ensure that we are secure, and our right to food as protected under the Constitution is premised. This was recently witnessed in the public debate that has ensued around the skyrocketing price of our staple food - maize flour. This is what makes My Vote, My Voice hence Kura Yangu Sauti Yangu.
Yet at a time when we should be expanding opportunities and spaces for greater enjoyment of fundamental human rights and civil liberties – freedoms of association, assembly and expression, civil society organizations have not been able to operate as independent actors in the political and governance processes optimally as they ought to.
The civil society has been the target of unfair administrative actions that increasingly make it difficult for the citizens and their voluntary organizations to flourish and execute their traditional mandate of providing civic and voter education.
When the people of Kenya embarked on the process of making a new constitution for themselves, their common desire was to realize a society in which human rights are respected; the individual's dignity and worth are acknowledged; in which the rule of law is observed; the people willingly fulfill their responsibilities, and in which the common good is the concern of all.
But all these democratic ideals still make only good reading and no practice more than six years after the Constitution was promulgated.
We have heard the Cabinet Secretary for Interior ban peaceful protests three months ahead of the elections as if there is something about the forthcoming elections that he knows will happen that the rest of us do not know.
The tragedy is that his pronouncements on the illegal bans come despite the fact that there are no parts of the Constitution that have been suspended nor is the country in a state of emergency to warrant such pronouncements.
He must be told in no uncertain terms that such whimsical bans are not only unconstitutional and illegal but are completely unwarranted and unwelcome.
Sometime late last year, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Interior Karanja Kibicho sent a circular to all County Commissioners that they will be individually held responsible for the activities of NGOs and CSOs operating in their areas of jurisdiction. As a result of this unwarranted circular, NGOs and CSOs have become the subjects of harassment and intimidation by the administrators in the counties. As we endorse the resolutions of this conference, we must also demand in the same breath that the Ministry of Interior withdraws that circular, for there cannot be free and fair elections when citizens and their civil society formations operate in an environment that is not conducive for their optimal engagement in the electoral processes and implementation of the resolutions of this conference as independent actors in the political life of this great nation.
We must congratulate ourselves, the organizers – IEBC, Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission and Kura Yangu Sauti Yangu, all participants and friends of Kenya who made it logistically possible for us to hold this conference. The resolutions that the CEO of the IEBC has just read out, and which we have unanimously adopted should not be seen as an end in themselves but means to a greater end.
They are part of the dialogue process. Faithful implementation of the resolutions is a collective task that each and every one of us must now take up as a national duty, with the IEBC providing the leadership as the primary duty bearer on electoral matters. The IEBC will however require the support and assistance of the entire State machinery if it is to achieve the set objectives. It is the hope of KYSY that the State will give its utmost support, and not undermine the implementation of the resolutions that we have adopted in collaboration and consultation with all its relevant agencies. It is a solemn oath that we must all swear to protect and implement to the letter.
As KYSY, we pledge to continue to partner with the IEBC in all the follow-up activities that will result from this conference. We will work with our members and partners to closely monitor the implementation of the resolutions and help out where we can in their implementation. Thank you and may you all have safe journey back home”
Kura Yangu Sauti Yangu - Coalition
Kenya Human Rights Commission [KHRC]
Opposite Valley Arcade Shopping Center, Gitanga Road
P. O. Box 41079 - 00100, Nairobi
Website: www.khrc.or.ke / www.kurayangusautiyangu.org